Challenging times of the “New Normal”
All people are living in the so-called “new normal” living. Almost all aspects of a person’s life were changed by the COVID-19 pandemic since the start of 2020. Health workers were overburdened by the current global crisis while trying to also survive to provide support for their families. People with a history of psychological problems such as anxiety, depression, or psychosis may be fearful now more than ever. Families are pressured to be more cautious on how to prevent acquiring the deadly virus that they may pass on to their family members when they get home. Students are stressed without the support of their school teachers since their parents can’t provide complete support in understanding their school lessons. Older persons and young children who are more vulnerable to get sick are discouraged to mingle with other people, which is the opposite of their need for socialization and physical interaction. The economies are challenged by the change in demand and services to be provided. Despite the uncertainties of the new normal lifestyle, people are learning to be resilient and finding ways on how to develop healthy habits to improve their health status, mind, body, and soul.
Yoga and Meditation for the Improvement of a Person’s Well-Being
The anxiety and stress brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic can increase blood pressure, create muscle tension, headaches, breathing problems, etc. Mental health is one of the main concerns of most medical practitioners now since fatigue can start from the brain and result in physical problems. Yoga and meditation can both result in relaxation of the mind and body and strengthening of the physical, mental and spiritual well-being. Yoga and meditation are helpful lifestyle practices that can improve the psychological and physical problems carried by the current pandemic terror.
Yoga is one of the known beneficial lifestyle habits that build the whole being of a person. Together with meditation, both can cover the physical, mental, and spiritual health of a person. Both can be done alone or with other members of the household regardless of their age or with friends via social media or video call. It can serve as motivation for the family and friends to overcome the stress and anxiety and to live healthy especially during this time of the pandemic.
Benefits of Yoga that are supported by Science
Yoga which involves meditation can reduce stress and aid relaxation. Multiple studies have mentioned that yoga lessens the secretion of the stress hormone cortisol (Vedamurthachar et al, 2006 and Katuri et al, 2016), resulting in a lesser level of stress, anxiety, fatigue, and depression (Michalsen et al, 2005).
Relief from Anxiety
A lot of people have started practicing yoga and meditation to fight anxiety. In some studies, some people had lowered their anxiety levels compared to the control group (Javnbakht, 2009). Some women who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), had lesser signs of the disorder after 10 weeks of yoga and meditation (Kolk et al, 2014).
Aside from strengthening the mental well-being of a person, some studies recognized that yoga with meditation may reduce inflammation and may help protect against certain diseases caused by chronic inflammation. The body exhibits normal inflammatory reactions during injuries and when harmful substances enter the body. Heart diseases, diabetes, and cancer can result due to prolonged or chronic inflammation. According to a study conducted, participants who practiced yoga had lower levels of inflammatory markers than those who didn’t (Vijayaraghava et al, 2015); and inflammatory markers were reduced in breast cancer survivors who participated in 12 weeks yoga classes (Bower et al, 2014).
Improve Heart Health
Studies show that yoga may help improve heart health resulting in the reduction of several risks for heart disease. Yoga involves physical movements which promote blood circulation and work out the heart. According to studies, those who practiced yoga for five years had lower blood pressure and pulse rate (Bharshankar, 2003).
High blood pressure is one of the major causes of heart problems, such as heart attacks and stroke. Lowering your blood pressure can help reduce the risk of these problems (Subramaniam and Lip, 2009). Some research also suggests that incorporating yoga into a healthy lifestyle could help slow the progression of heart disease. A study followed patients with heart disease, looking at the effects of a lifestyle change that included one year of yoga training combined with dietary modifications and stress management. Participants saw a 23% decrease in total cholesterol and a 26% reduction in “bad” LDL cholesterol. Additionally, the progression of heart disease stopped in 47% of patients (Yogendra et al, 2004). It’s unclear how much of a role yoga may have had versus other factors like diet. Yet it can minimize stress, one of the major contributors to heart disease (Inoue, 2014).
5. Improvement of the Quality of Life
Many are turning to yoga and meditation to improve their quality of life. In a study involving seniors who were engaged for six months in yoga. Their lives were said to significantly improve, with alleviation of fatigue and mood swings compared to other groups (Osken et al, 2006). Other studies showed that yoga can reduce cancer symptoms among patients (Raghavendra et al, 2007), improved quality of sleep, spiritual well-being, socialization, and lessen anxiety and fatigue among cancer patients (Cote, 2012; Buffart et al, 2012).
6. Suppress Depression
There are studies that suggest that yoga has an antidepressant effect by decreasing the levels of cortisol in the body, resulting in decreased symptoms of depression (Tafet et al, 2001). The rhythmic breathing and meditation involved in yoga also proved the lowering cortisol level effects of regularly doing yoga (Vedamurthachar, 2006).
7. Reduce Chronic Pain
There is an increasing amount of research on the effects of yoga on reducing various types of chronic pain. In a study of individuals with carpal tunnel syndrome, doing yoga for eight weeks was found to be more effective in pain reduction and improvement of grip strength than wrist splinting (Garfinkel et al, 1998). In 2005, another study concluded decreased pain and improved physical function of participants with osteoarthritis of the knees who practiced yoga (Kolasinski, 2005).
8. Promote Sleep
Obesity, high blood pressure, and depression were associated with poor sleep quality (Rahe et al, 2015; Liu et al, 2016; Net et al, 2008). A study involving elderly participants concluded that the participants involved in yoga with meditation were able to fall asleep faster, slept for longer hours, and felt more rested in the morning (Manjunath & Telles, 2005). Another study showed that yoga can increase the melatonin secretion in the body, inducing more sleep and rest (Harinath, 2004).
9. Improvement of Flexibility and Balance
Many have practiced yoga and meditation to improve their flexibility and balance. There are a number of studies that support the said improvement. A study that involved male college athletes who practiced yoga for 10 weeks was said to increase their flexibility and balance compared to other study groups (Polsgrove et al, 2016). Another study involving elderly participants who were involved in yoga for one year was said to increase their flexibility (Farinatti, 2014). A study concluded that yoga can improve balance and mobility among elderly people (Tiedemann, 2013).
10. Help Improve Breathing
Pranayama, a kind of yoga practice involving breathing exercises and techniques, was said to increase an individual’s lungs' vital capacity (Birkel and Edgren, 2000). Another study said that yoga breathing exercises have alleviated mild-to-moderate asthma symptoms (Saxena and Saxena, 2009).
11. Relief from Migraines
Migraines are described as persistent headaches affecting 1 out of 7 individuals in the US (Burch et al, 2015). Usually, migraines can be treated using medications to lessen the pain. Some studies suggest that yoga reduced migraine frequency among individuals who practiced yoga for three months (Kisan et al, 2014).
12. Encourages Healthy Eating Habits
Since yoga involves meditation and relaxation which leads to mindfulness, some studies say that yoga promotes healthy eating habits. A study involving patients with eating disorders has found that yoga reduced both eating disorder symptoms and desire for food (Carei et al, 2010). Another study involving people with binge eating disorder who practiced yoga has decreased desire to binge eat and increased their physical activities which resulted in their desired weight loss (Mclver et al, 2009).
13. Increase Strength
Yoga can improve the body’s flexibility, which makes it a great exercise with increasing strength results. In a study involving adults who performed yoga for 24 weeks, the participants experienced increased upper body strength and endurance. Some of the participants have experienced weight loss with a decreased percentage in body fat (Bhutkar et al, 2011). Another study also found out that yoga can improve the body’s endurance, strength, and flexibility among 173 participants (Yu and Woo, 2015).